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Who was Hal Holbrook's wife Dixie Carter? Actor who died at 95 found his true love after two failed marriages

While the actor's revered portfolio is well documented, not much is known about his relationship with his late wife, who was also an accomplished stage, television, and film actor
Actress Dixie Carter and husband Actor Hal Holbrook pose for photographers May 4, 2000 (Getty Images)
Actress Dixie Carter and husband Actor Hal Holbrook pose for photographers May 4, 2000 (Getty Images)

Hal Holbrook, the Emmy-and Tony-winning actor best known for his portrayal of Mark Twain, died on January 23, 2021, at 95. His film work included portraying the mysterious Deep Throat in 'All the President’s Men'. Holbrook first played the role of the American novelist in a self-directed solo show called “Mark Twain Tonight!” for which he won the best actor Tony in 1966. He returned to Broadway with the show in 1977 and made more than 2,200 appearances in several venues across the country. But while the actor's revered portfolio is well documented, not much is known about his relationship with late wife Dixie Carter, who was also an accomplished stage, television, and film actor.

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Carter was born in 1939 McLemoresville, Tennessee, and was the middle of three children. She harbored dreams of becoming an opera singer when she was young, but those were shattered by a botched tonsillectomy at age seven. Nonetheless, she continued to study classical music and learned to play the piano, trumpet, and harmonica, The Sun reported. Carter made her professional debut at age 21 in a local production of Carousel. She moved to New York a couple of years later and got a role in Joseph Papp's production of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. 

Actor Hal Holbrook (L) and actress Dixie Carter pose during the 80th annual Academy Awards nominees luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 4, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Meeting Hal

After two failed marriages, Carter tied the knot for the third time to fellow actor Hal Holbrook on May 27, 1984. While he was 14 years older than her, he had had two previous failed marriages as well. According to the Baltimore Sun, Carter and Halbrook met during the filming of a TV movie. At the time, her friends knew this was the real thing. "She called and said she had met the most wonderful man," John Wallowitch, a songwriter who was Carter's first singing coach, recalled to the newspaper. "I think she loved him right away, but there was a note of caution there."

During their best years together, Carter and Holbrook would divide their time between their properties in Beverly Hills, California, and McLemoresville, Tennessee.

Acting career

Dixie Carter is widely acclaimed for her role as the soft-spoken Southerner Julia Sugarbaker in 'Designing Women' in the 1980s. Beyond the big screen, she was known to perform in a series of Broadway plays, and even starred in the 90s television drama 'Family Law'. Carter was thrust back into the limelight between 2006 and 2007 as part of the hit series 'Desperate Housewives'. She received an Emmy Award nomination for her portrayal of Gloria Hodge, Bree Van de Kamp's disturbed mother-in-law.

Actress Dixie Carter and actor Hal Holbrook (both center) with guests arrive at the 80th Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 24, 2008, in Hollywood, California. (Getty Images)

Ex-husbands and children

Dixie Carter first married businessman Arthur Carter (unrelated) in 1961. The couple had two daughters, Ginna Carter -- now an actress -- and Mary Dixie Carter, a screenwriter. Dixie had left the stage for eight years to raise her children, and struggled to find work when she returned to acting at age 35, according to The Sun. After a fallout with her first husband, Carter tied the knot with Broadway actor George Hearn in 1977, but the marriage quickly failed. When she met Holbrook, Carter was 45 and became a stepmom to his three kids from previous marriages.

How did she die?

Dixie Carter was 70 years old when she died on April 10, 2010, in Houston, Texas. Reports at the time said she had developed complications from endometrial cancer, which was diagnosed earlier that year. Holbrook, her husband at the time, remained a widower for over a decade until his death in 2021.